Email conventions (Initialisms)

Tom Kysilko pds at VISI.COM
Fri Aug 6 04:26:25 UTC 1999

At 06:52 PM 8/3/1999 -0400, James E Clapp wrote:
>1.  Initialisms:
>The people who use these are people who never learned to type.  For a
>typist, it's quicker and easier to type "in my opinion" than "IMHO," which
>requires holding down the shift key while typing four unrelated

How's this for an alternative hypothesis:  Most initialisms fade from
general use (or never acheive it).  Those that persist (in e-mail) are both
handy, AND are easier to type.  "BTW" and "IMHO" do indeed require holding
down the shift key, but they can be made without switching hands.  B, T,
and W are all on the left side of the keyboard, while I, M, H, and O are
all on the right.

Actually, I find that I use initialisms with considerable frequency. [And I
do touch type.] These are suited to the recipient.  When writing to a
political connection I may throw in "SoS" for Secretary of State; to
programmers, "VFP" for Visual FoxPro; and of course to y'all, "DARE" for,
well, you know, doncha.

FWIW, here's a complete list of initialisms from a corpus (N=3) of e-mail
messages sent by me to a general correspondent in August 1997.

F       feminist [as a pseudo-genus in F Conferensis]
HS      high school [not part of a name]
SRS     Spanish Riding School [written out in a previous sentence]
FAQ     (archive of answers to) Frequently Asked Questions
PO'd    Pissed off
DFL     Democratic-Farmer-Labor (Party)
SPPP    St Paul Pioneer Press
G&S     Gilbert and Sullivan
PC      (IBM-compatible) personal computer
BTW     By the way
USN&WR  US News and World Report [never written out]
POP     Post Office Protocol

And if we don't think of typing, we may recall letters from those wonderful
epistolary novels of the 18th and 19th centuries, in which initialisms (as
well as other abbreviations) abound.

Finally, there is P G Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster who made nonce initialism
into a high art.

If initialisms don't always save time and effort -- and I think they
usually do -- they do save space (or bandwidth) and often add spice.

And, yes, they can serve to identify the writer with an in-group.

  Tom Kysilko        Practical Data Services
  pds at       Saint Paul MN USA

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